Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not Totally MIA

Really nasty cold + Thanksgiving preparation + big (good) changes at home = not enough energy or time to post. Will get back to the nutrition information plus some other posts I've been thinking about after Thanksgiving! Hope you enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving with friends and family next week -

Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine


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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Folic Acid (Folate)

The importance of folic acid is becoming fairly well known because of an advertising campaign sponsored by the CDC (Center for Disease Control), the March of Dimes, and the National Council on Folic Acid. I think many women are aware of the link between adequate folic acid and reduced risk of neural tube defects, like spina bifda.

Folic acid is critical very early in pregnancy. By the time many women realize they are pregnant, their baby's spinal column and brain are already fully formed (around week four). Many women plan pregnancies, but just about as many are surprised by an unplanned pregnancy. For these reasons, all the books I read recommend that women of childbearing age take a daily multivitamin that contains at least 400 mcg of folic acid, whether they are planning a pregnancy or not.

During pregnancy, most of the books recommend 600-800mcg of folic acid, daily. All the prenatal vitamins I reviewed contained 800mcg of folic acid. While getting some folic acid through diet is certainly do-able, this particular vitamin is another one, like calcium and iron, where supplementing with a vitamin can make a lot of sense.

What does Folic Acid do?
Folic acid is best known for what it prevents: say folic acid and many of us think "prevent spinal bifida", even if we're not sure what spina bifida is. Inadequate folic acid has been linked to neural tube disorders, which are malformations of the central nervous system. Spina bifida is the most common of these neural tube disorders. Many studies have shown that adequate folic acid during the first weeks of pregnancy dramatically reduce these very serious disorders.

In Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, Elizabeth Somer explains just how important folic acid is: "Neural tube defects are the second leading cause of death among infants who die from birth defects in this country (Downs syndrome is the leading cause). One nutrient known to prevent NTDs is folic acid. Numersous studies since they early 1990s have consistently found that folic acid supplementation in women around the time of conception and during pregnancy reuces the risk of NTD, especially spina bifida and anencephaly. Women who supplement with folic acid also deliver babies at low risk for urinary tract, cardiovascular, and limb defects. You also tend to improve your fertility, are less likely to miscarry, and should suffer less from nausea" (6).

It is important to continue to get adequate folic acid because low levels may increase the risk of complications during pregnancy. Some studies show that a deficiency of folic acid during pregnancy can also increase the chance of preterm birth.

Having a Baby, Naturally also mentions folate's importance in DNA synthesis and the formation of red blood cells.

What are good food sources for Folic Acid?
Because folic acid is so important, many foods are now fortified with it, including cereal, pasta and rice.

Good natural food sources of folic acid include: beans and peas, leafy green vegetables, asparagus, sunflower seeds, whole grains, papaya, oranges, blueberries and strawberries.

According to Peggy O'Mara in Having a Baby Naturally, "you can get 400mcg of folate in your daily diet if you eat:
  • 1 glass of orange juice or 1/4C of wheat germ or a small handful of dried soybeans and
  • 1 egg or 2 slices of bread or 1/4 of a cantaloupe and
  • 1 cup of pinto, black or navy beans or two cups of cooked turnip greens, spinach or asparagus or 1 tablespoon brewer's yeast" (25).
  • Other excellent food sources include:
    1 cup of most breakfast cereals = 100mcg
    1/2 cup boiled lentils = 180mcg
    1/2 cup pinto beans = 147mcg
    1/2 cup boiled asparagus = 130mcg
    1/2 cup boiled spinach = 130mcg
    1/2 cup wheat germ = 100mcg
    1/2 cup orange juice, from concentrate = 109mcg
    1/2 cup chickpeas, canned = 80mcg
    1 cup spinach, fresh = 109mcg
    1 cup split peas, cooked = 123mcg

    How is Folic Acid absorbed?
    Folic acid is not stored in the body, according to The Pregnancy Book, by Dr. Sears, which is why it is so important for women of childbearing age to have a consistently adequate intake of folic acid. Dr. Sears also explains that the kidneys excrete more folic acid during pregnancy, which is one of the reasons why pregnant women need more folic acid than when they're not pregnant.

    Folic Acid supplements
    Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy explains that, unlike many other vitamins, folic acid supplements actually work better than food sources. "Supplements are better than food when it comes to raising blood levels of this B vitamin and reducing birth defects . . . Folic acid levels in the blood increased only in the women who supplemented or consumed fortified foods, while dietary intake of folic acid-rich foods produced no change in folate status . . . Your best bet is to include two or more servings of folic acid-rich foods in your daily diet AND take a supplement that includes at least 400mcg of folic acid" (8).

    Below are the books I used to write this post:
    The Pregnancy Book, by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN
    The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, by W. Allan Walker, MD
    Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, by Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD
    Having a Baby Naturally, by Peggy O'Mara

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine

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    Mothering Webinar (Free!) on Natural Toys

    Let's Play!: Mothering's A to Z Guide to Natural Toys is a free webinar offered by Mothering, on Tuesday, December 2nd 3-4pm EST. This is their description:
    "The holidays are here. Given today's economy and the demand for toxic-free toys, parents are on the lookout for affordable, natural toys. Let Mothering help you choose the safest, highest quality gifts that won't break the bank.

    Mothering's own product reviewer, Candace Walsh, will help you find toys under $20 and answer the question "When is 'Made in China' OK?"

    Also, green expert Mindy Pennybacker will discuss toxin-free toy options for your kids.

    And mama crafter Amber Dusick will take the scariness out of scroll saw wooden toy making and discuss natural paint options."
    The other Mothering webinar I participated in was excellent, and I imagine this one will be very helpful too!

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Toxins in Children's Toys and Products

    Most every summer we go visit my husband's best friend's mom (quite the introduction, yes?) at her annual beach rental in Friendship, ME. She is the Director of Outreach on things environmental for an Ivy League school. About four years ago, she saw me heat up my kid's fish sticks on a plastic plate in the microwave and went up one side of me and down the other: "plastics! heat! YOUR KID!!" I had no idea there was anything wrong with this habit. But let me tell you, that was the last time I've heated up my kids' food in plasic! I thanked her then for the heads-up, but now, with everything that's come out since about BPA and children's products, I'm especially grateful.

    If you're wondering what I'm talking about, or want to know more than you do now, here are three helpful links that explain the potential hazards of common toxins in our children's environment, including BPA in plastic:

    Plastic Exposure in Childhood - Is There Evidence of Exposure?

    Toxic Toys on PBS

    Controversy Over Safety of Plastics and Kids Health

    Mothering Magazine also has a great article on this topic: Out of the Mouths of Babes.

    If you're wondering where you can find BPA-free feeding products for your baby, here are two websites that might be helpful:

    Choosing glass or BPA-free plastic baby bottles

    Z Report on BPA in Children's Feeding Products offers more information on what bottles, pacifiers, and tableware are BPA-Free.

    As more and more companies are becoming aware that "BPA-free" on the label will attract consumers, there will be more BPA-free choices and clear labeling.

    With the holiday season coming up, here are a few of the websites listed in "The Long Goodbye to Toxic Toys" from the Nov/Dec 2008 Mothering Magazine, a great article by Mindy Pennybacker.

    Tips on Toy Safety

    Search Toys for Toxins (by brand, type, search)

    Toys Without Detected Toxins of Concern

    Toys with Highest Levels of Toxins

    US Consumer Product Safety Commission Recalls and Product Safety News lists recalls by month and year.

    TIPS Unlimited Baby Skincare Awards include product descriptions for safer baby wash, shampoo, bum cream, lotion, toothpaste and more.

    Hope this information is helpful!

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine

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    Friday, November 7, 2008

    Three Great Movies

    Homebirth/Waterbirth of Judah Darwin

    Just beautiful!

    Seen on Woman to Woman Childbirth Education, accompanied by a thoughtful post on What Does Natural Birth Sound Like?

    Women Talk about Natural Birth

    From the Real Women, Real Birth, Real Options blog:

    Painless Childbirth Trailer

    Trailer introducing Painless Childbirth by Giuditta Tornetta

    I don't agree with everything in this trailer - I personally don't agree with implicitly or explicitly promising a woman a painless childbirth - but it's a beautiful trailer and offers a very interesting perspective. I'm excited to read the book.

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine

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    Wednesday, November 5, 2008


    During pregnancy, women need various vitamins and minerals to grow the baby - both the process and the baby's actual body. If a woman does not obtain enough of these vitamins and minerals to support her own body as well as the pregnancy, her body will always provide for the baby first, and her own nutrition will suffer.

    Women who do not get enough calcium through food or supplement are at risk for osteoporosis (a reduction in bone mass) because of this fundamental principle. A pregnant woman's body will use the calcium stores in her bones to build the baby's skeleton.

    Most sources recommend at least 1200mg of calcium each day for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

    Do you know how much calcium is in your prenatal vitamin? Here are a few common brands and how much calcium each contains:
    Rite Aid Brand Prenatal: 200mg
    Rainbow Light Prenatal: 200mg
    GNC Prenatal: 500mg
    One-a-Day Prenatal: 300mg
    Stuart Prenatal: 200mg

    Clearly it's important for pregnant women to avoid counting on a prenatal vitamin to meet all of their calcium needs during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

    What does calcium do?
    As many of us know, calcium builds bones, so it is important prenatally for the baby's bones. Most us also know that calcium is in milk products - it's in breastmilk too! So, nursing mothers need calcium after baby is born too.

    Several studies suggest that optimal amounts of calcium decrease the risk of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (PIH) and pre-eclampsia.

    In the Sears' Family Nutrition Book, Dr. Sears writes that "calcium is one of the most vital minerals for optimal functioning of your entire body" 955).

    What are good food sources for calcium?
    Good sources for calcium include dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese; fortified products like soy milk, orange juice, and cereal; fish; soy products; and greens. Here are some specific numbers:
  • Milk, low-fat: 1 cup = 300mg
  • Cottage Cheese: 1 cup = 155mg
  • Yogurt, low-fat, plain: 1 cup = 400mg
  • Parmesan cheese: 1 ounce = 336mg
  • Cheddar cheese: 1 ounce = 200mg
  • Sardines: 3 ounce = 371mg
  • Orange juice, calcium-fortified: 1 cup = 300mg
  • Tofu: 3 ounces = 190mg
  • Salmon: 3 ounces = 180mg
  • Broccoli, chopped (raw): 1/2 cup = 47mg
  • Almonds: 1 ounce = 80mg
  • Cereal, calcium-fortified: 1/2 cup = 100-200mg
  • Spinach, cooked: 1/2 cup = 136mg
  • Orange: 1 medium = 50mg
  • Soybean nuts: 1/4 cup = 116
  • Honestly, calcium was never a problem for me, because I love dairy. If I had one serving of cheese during the day (approximately 150mg), plus two glasses of milk for dinner (which equals 4 cups of milk, for a total of 1200mg), that was my calcium. People who don't tolerate dairy well, though, or who simply don't like it, need to be more mindful about including non-dairy calcium-rich foods in their daily diets.

    O'Mara offers these suggestions for obtaining 1,000mg of calcium through food sources:
  • 1 cup of milk or fortified soy or rice milk and
  • 1 cup of yogurt or fortified soy or rice yogurt or 1 cup of cooked collard or turnip greens and
  • 3 ounces of sardines or 1 stalk of broccoli and 1 cup of cooked turnip greens (26).

  • How is calcium absorbed?
    In Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, Elizabeth Somer explains that "the total cost of pregnancy for a woman who has had two babies and has breast-fed them both for three months is approximately 100,000 mg, the equivalent of more than 333 extra glasses of nonfat milk!" (77).

    Somer offers this explanation for how the body handles its need for calcium during pregnancy and breastfeeding:
    "During gestation, it helps compensate for higher calcium needs by increasing the average amount absorbed into your bones from food - from about 20 to 25 percent prior to pregnancy to as much as 50 percent during pregnancy. While nursing, your body compensates for the loss in breast milk by reducing calcium losses in the urine . . . Regardless of absorption, you need to make sure you get enough of this mineral prior to, during, and after pregnancy" (78).
    In Having a Baby, Naturally, Peggy O'Mara explains that calcium is aborbed better when taken with vitamin C and vitamin D (26).

    O'Mara adds that "new research on calcium is beginning to make some experts believe that getting the body to retain calcium stores is much more crucial in the prevention of osteoporosis than how much of it you consume. Consuming too much alcohol and caffeine and eating a high-protein diet seem to deplete the body of its calcium stores more quickly. Exercising helps the body to hold on to its calcium supply" (26). These habits - avoiding alcohol, limiting caffeine, and exercising regularly - have many health benefits for pregnant women and their babies beyond calcium retention, but that's certainly one more good reason to make them a priority.

    Finally, calcium is aborbed best when smaller amounts of calcium-rich foods are eaten through the day and with meals.

    Calcium supplements
    For women who do not get enough calcium through their diet, a calcium supplement can make up the difference. Here is a list of recommendations to keep in mind if you decide to take a calcium supplement:
    Avoid "natural source" calcium pills like bone meal or oyster shell because they might contain lead, a very toxic metal.

    Take the calcium supplement at a different time - not at the same time as a prenatal or iron supplement, because calcium interferes with iron absorption, and iron interferes with calcium absorption.

    Take calcium with vitamin C and vitamin D (400IU) to increase absorption.

    Know how much of the calcium in your supplement is elemental - that's the amount that's actually usable by your body.

    Taking calcium before bed may help you sleep.

    Below are the books I used to write this post:
    The Pregnancy Book, by William Sears, MD and Martha Sears, RN
    The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating During Pregnancy, by W. Allan Walker, MD
    Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, by Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD
    Having a Baby Naturally, by Peggy O'Mara

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine

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